2017 WTA Auckland, Brisbane, Shenzhen Previews and Predictions
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The 2017 season kicks off with a trio of events spanning three different countries as the preparation for the Australian Open begins. Here is what in store in the opening week of the new season.
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The Williams sisters are making a rare venture to New Zealand for the ASB Classic in Auckland where they will be the top seeds. Serena and Venus will therefore be unable to face each other before the final, but the older sibling has Caroline Wozniacki in her half.
Serena opens her 2017 account against Pauline Parmentier in the opening round. The American is in search of the number one ranking yet again after losing that spot to Angelique Kerber last year. The winner faces either Madison Brengle or a qualifier in round two. Jelena Ostapenko is the other seed in the section and is scheduled to face Serena in the quarter finals if she can get by home favourite Marina Erakovic and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. It is hard to go against Williams making it out of this section with ease. None of the players in the section have enough to beat the top seed
Prediction: Serena def. Ostapenko
Barbora Strycova returns to action after helping the Czech Fed Cup team to the title in 2016. If the fourth seed can get through her first round opponent, she will likely face compatriot Lucie Safarova in the second round. Safarova spent most of 2016 recovering from injuries, so she will aim to return to the top next year. Kiki Bertens is the other seed in the section, but I can not picture her upsetting Strycova or beating Safarova if the latter is in good form.
Prediction: Strycova def. Bertens
Wozniacki undoubtedly headlines the third section of the draw as she looks to once again become a top 10 player. The Dane opens against Nicole Gibbs in what could be quite a long battle. Varvara Lepchenko likely awaits the winner. Anastasia Pavlychenkova is always a dangerous player, but she has a tough opener herself against Julia Goerges. Danka Kovinic and Naomi Broady are also capable of making it to the quarter finals, but it will likely be the Russian that progresses only to lose to Wozniacki.
Prediction: Wozniacki def. Pavlyuchenkova
Whilst younger players are retiring, Venus just keeps playing on. 2017 could very well be her last season and she will love to kick it off with a tournament win here. It will be difficult though with plenty of young blood looking to upset the veteran. Naomi Osaka is a potential second round opponent, then Ana Konjuh is likely for the quarter finals. It is a good section full of dangerous players and I feel that Venus could exit early. As for who will it make it through, I think 2017 could be a big year for Osaka and Konjuh and either one of them could go through.
Prediction: Konjuh def.Osaka
Serena def. Strycova
Wozniacki def. Konjuh
If Serena is in good form, she will make the final undoubtedly. If not then Strycova has the awkward game that can frustrate the world number two and an upset could be sprung. I feel Serena will be out to prove she is the best in 2017 and use this tournament to send an early message to her rivals. Konjuh is a promising young player but Wozniacki is very consistent and very tough to beat. I can see a close match edged by Wozniacki.
Serena def. Wozniacki
The head to head speaks for itself. The Dane does not have the weapons to trouble Serena, and it will likely be a comfortable win for the top seed.
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Brisbane has been a regular stop on the first week of the season since 2009, and the fact it is a Premier level event means it draws the best players, including the world number one.
Angelique Kerber kicks off the 2017 season as the world number one (who would have thought that a year a go), so is under pressure to perform to the standard of 2016. The German starts her season against a qualifier or Ashleigh Barty in round two. Elina Svitolina is the other seed in this quarter and she has a tough opener against Monica Puig. The Ukrainian will be a player to watch this season and she aims to move into the top 10. There are plenty of good players in this quarter, but Kerber should advance. Svitolina is the biggest test the world number one will face, but one she will likely pass.
Prediction: Kerber def. Svitolina
Karolina Pliskova is heading into 2017 off the back of her best ever season in 2016. Not only did she make her first grand slam final, the Czech was also part of the Fed cup winning team that year. Pliskova will be aiming to build on that and perhaps go one further in a big event, but first she must focus on Brisbane. Yullia Putintseva is first followed by the winner of Donna Vekic vs qualifier. Roberta Vinci is the other seed in the section, but she is likely past her best and could be defeated by Ekaterina Makarova. Pliskova is easily the strongest player in this section and she should make it through without much trouble.
Prediction: Pliskova def. Makarova
Despite winning her maiden Grand Slam title, 2016 was a troubling year for Garbine Muguruza. She failed to find consistency and it seemed the core of what made her so dangerous diminished. The Spaniard will be hoping for a better 2017, but she has been drawn against Sam Stosur in the pick of the opening round matches. The Aussie does struggle in front of her home crowd though. Muguruza might get past Stosur but it is difficult to predict what happens next because we are unsure which version shows up. Svetlana Kuznetsova might be the favourite to make it out of this section,and she has got a good draw to do so.
Prediction: Kuznetsova def. Muguruza
Like Pliskova, Cibulkova is riding into 2017 full of confidence after her best ever season. The Slovak won the Tour Finals last year so knows she can defeat the top players. The question is can she remain consistent and defeat the lower ranked players? Laura Siegemund or Shuai Zhang will face the second seed in round two. Elena Vesnina is a dangerous player to be drawn into your section though, and she will be favoured to make the quarter finals over Alize Cornet, Christina McHale and Sara Errani. It is unlikely Cibulkova loses before the semi finals, but it could be a good match against Vesnina if the Russian is in good form.
Prediction: Cibulkova def. Vesnina
Kerber def. Pliskova
Cibulkova def. Kuznetsova
Two very close matches and two in which I favour the higher ranked player. Pliskova has beaten Kerber in the past but the German has had the advantage more often than not. That is also the case between Cibulkova and Kuznetsova, though this one is very close on paper.
Kerber def. Cibulkova
It is difficult to look past Kerber. I can see her being too solid, too consistent for Cibulkova who we know is very capable of producing big performances.
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Agnieszka Radwanska returns to Shenzhen to defend her title in a tournament that also features Simona Halep and Johanna Konta.
The top seed lands in a top section that on paper she should go through comfortably. Radwanska has drawn a Chinese wildcard in round one followed by a match with either Sorana Cirstea or Kristina Kucova. Alison Riskeis the other seed in the quarter and she also faces a Chinese wildcard in the opening round. Tsvetana Pironkova could provide the eighth seed problems, but it should be Radwanska who advances from this quarter.
Prediction: Radwanska def. Pironkova
Timea Bacsinszky did not hit the heights of 2015, but she had a solid year to once again to finish inside the top 16. As the fourth seed here the Swiss will be expected to make the last four, but she faces a dangerous big hitter in Camila Giorgi in the opening round. Saisai Zheng will likely meet the winner, then you would expect Monica Niculescu to meet the winner of that in the quarter finals. The tricky Romanian’s most dangerous before the quarter finals is Evgeniya Rodina, but it is a match she should win. Bacsinszky vs Niculescu is an interesting match as Niculescu’s unusual style is a nightmare for many players, but Bacsinszky is a mature enough player to deal with the slices and come through.
Prediction: Bacsinszky def. Niculescu
Johanna Konta was arguably the most improved player of 2016, rising into the top 10. The Brit is one of the favourites in the tournament but could face a US Open rematch with Anastasija Sevastova in the quarter finals. First the Latvian must face the big serving Krystina Pliskova then Viktorija Golubic in the second round. Konta meets Cagla Buyukakcy then the winner of Vania King and Maria Sakkari. It will be a shock if we do not see the rematch and surely this time Konta will be able to get the win.
Prediction: Konta def. Sevastova
Simona Halep will be disappointed that she failed to win her maiden Grand Slam in 2016, but a new year could mean new beginnings for the Romanian. She faces former world number one Jelena Jankovic In the most high profile round one match, but it is one Halep should win. Big server Timea Babos lands in this quarter as the fifth seeded player. The Hungarian has a great draw to the quarter finals with her first two opponents being qualifiers. The Babos vs Halep match should happen and in this contest you will have to favour the second seed.
Prediction: Halep def. Babos
Radwanska def. Bacsinszky
Halep def. Konta
Radwanska being a little too much for her Swiss opponent is a lot easier to call than the other semi final which you feel could go either way. Halep is the more accomplished player though so should be favoured in this match-up.
Radwanska def. Halep
Radwanska will be too tricky for Halep. The Pole won here last year, so she knows these courts and how to play them. Expect 2017 to start positively for Radwanska with a title win in the opening week.